In our ongoing search to bring you the hottest new music around, our New Band of the Week goes to Portland’s The Fourth Wall.
Describing themselves as a “melodic noise rock” band, The Fourth Wall first started back in Hawaii, where they were the leaders of the Pineapple State’s modest music scene (a slot supporting The Shins there must stand as a highlight of those days).
Since then they’ve upped sticks and headed on over to Portland’s bustling scene of creative musicians. Doing so must feel a little like starting from scratch, but the with the recent release of second album Lovely Violence and plans for headline tours, The Fourth Wall are breaking through the Pacific Northwest veil.
We took some time to chat to frontman Stephen Augustin about the process behind the new album, what inspires them to create music in the way they do, and playing with the line between abrasive and beautiful sounds.
Please introduce us to each member of the band and what they do.
“My name is Stephen Agustin and I write the words and sing them. I also play the guitar and a little piano. Kasey Shun plays guitar and sings harmonies. Max Lilien plays the drums. And Paul Brittain plays the electric bass.”
For those unaware of what The Fourth Wall do, why should people listen to the band?
“It’s always difficult and awkward to try to convince someone to care one iota about your art. However, it’s always been our goal to create music that is engaging sonically and philosophically. We aren’t happy with a particular song until we feel that we’ve succeeded that goal. So if our music ‘works’ on us, we’re hoping that others who share some of the same aesthetic values we do and can find something attractive about our band.”
You guys originally began life as a band in Hawaii. What differences did you notice in the move to Portland, and how has that affected the way the band works or sounds?
“One major difference between living in Portland versus living in Hawaii is that in Portland it seems just slightly more socially acceptable to be in a rock band and take it seriously, haha. I think there are a lot of financial reasons that might explain why that is the case. Hawaii is a rather expensive place to live, let alone thrive by doing what you love. It was a bit easier to find free time to work on music here in Portland. Also, music is something a lot of people do here, so you don’t really have to exhaust any effort explaining to people that you’re in a band.
“I will say that Hawaii has a pretty great alternative music scene. I think that because it’s so difficult to be in a band in Hawaii, the ones that survive turn out to be pretty awesome. Portland’s alternative music scene is larger and more diverse, of course, but not radically different from Hawaii’s.”
What kinds of bands influence the music of The Fourth Wall?
“As a band we’re influenced by a pretty broad range of styles of music. We all agree on the classics: Neil Young, Big Star, The Band, Velvet Underground… But in terms of how the music we like relates to what we try to do, I’d say we really like bands that play with the line between abrasive/chaotic sounds and melodic/beautiful sounds. What’s so novel about a band like My Bloody Valentine (a band we continually refer to) for instance, is that they’ve taken a sound (or rather a collection of sounds) that was supposed to be harsh and gritty and nearly unpalatable, and they’ve somehow orchestrated something immensely beautiful and melodic from it. You have these two contradictory elements that somehow, with the right amount of finesse, become greater than the sum of their parts.”
You recently released your second album in Lovely Violence. What sort of approach did you take to the writing, and how did that shape how the finished product came out?
“The overall project of Lovely Violence was to think about what it means to be free. What does it mean to choose, and what are the consequences of a choice? Not just any particular choice, with its material consequences, but also the features of choice as an apparatus for structuring the items of the world in terms of value. Many of the songs explore the idea of love as a choice which calls for the restructuring (de-structuring) of the world and the traumatic impact this might have. So the songwriting process involved attempting to create sonic and lyric depictions of this. Aside from our musical influences, there were numerous literary influences as well, especially the work of Jean Genet and Jean-Paul Sartre (particularly his work concerning Genet).
“In terms of recording Lovely Violence, we decided to record everything ourselves so we could have virtually unlimited time to really experiment and to be able to listen back and reflect on the songs (and the album) as a whole. And if there was a sound or element missing in a particular song, we had the time to go back and fill that emptiness with something, or change the arrangement, or rewrite a lyric, or whatever it needed. The process was much more drawn out and maybe a bit of sanity was lost along the way, but the product is something we’re certainly proud of and we’re more comfortable saying it’s an accurate reflection of what we aimed to achieve artistically. I think the result is something much more textured with a lot more depth. There are a lot of sounds jumping in and out of the foreground.”
What can people expect from the record? Is it all one type of sound or is there a variety to the music?
“Lovely Violence was definitely written to be an album, as opposed to a collection of songs, so I do think there is a unifying sound, or an atmosphere to it. But there are definite movements within the album. There are restful moments in the record as well as abrasive and frenetic moments. There are moments that are sonically very dense with many sounds layered on top of each other, and there are moments where the instrumentation is very simplistic.”
Portland is obviously a bustling place for music. Can it be difficult to stand out from the crowd and if so, what advice would you give to new bands looking to catch people’s attention?
“Portland definitely is a bustling place for music, and it can be difficult to stand out. I’m not sure what advice I can really give in this regard. I actually think it might be best not to think about it too hard. If you care enough about what you do artistically, I think people recognise when you’re being authentic and they’ll respect that. Plus, Portland musicians are usually very supportive and overall nice people, at least they’ve been that way to us. And as long as you’re as nice to other bands as they are to you, you could probably make a lot of friends that way and hopefully catch some people’s attention eventually.”
And with that much music around there’s obviously a lot to choose from. What fellow Portland bands would you recommend people check out?
“We got to open up for the Portland band Menomena in Hawaii and we think they’re awesome. Jackson Boone is someone we’ve played with a bunch and his band is really excellent. The Domestics, And And And, Typhoon, and Sama Dams are some new Portland favorites.”
What does the future hold for The Fourth Wall. Touring plans etc? Perhaps you’d like to make it over to the UK one day?
“We are planning to do a short tour in September in parts of Oregon and California. We’re hoping to start touring more down the line as well. We’ve also started to write songs for our next album, which we’re really excited about. We’d love to make it over to the UK someday!”
You can purchase The Fourth Wall’s LP Lovely Violence through Bandcamp.